Economic Development News & Insight


The Higher ED Blog: What are your trails worth?

Michelle Madden / May 11, 2015

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The Higher ED Blog: What are your trails worth?

Trails are great community resources: they encourage interaction, increase physical activity levels, and provide a venue for everyday and special event recreation. They also connect people with nature and neighboring communities. If that was the extent of their value, trails would still be considered important assets, but the benefits don’t stop there.

Jennifer Lake and Krista Perry of Conception Bay South in Newfoundland set out to find the economic value of non-motorized and motorized trails (respectively) in papers recently submitted to the University of Waterloo’s Economic Development Program. Their goal was to find research to support continued investment in the Conception Bay South portions of Newfoundland’s T’Railway Provincial Park. They by no means included all of the economic data on trail use out there (it’s a lot), but their research can hopefully inspire you to look for the opportunities for trail development in your community.

Trail user spending

The economic impact of individual trails will vary based on their length, amenities, and connectivity to a larger trail network. That said, case studies typically show that the average non-motorized trail user (hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, etc) spends around $20 per day on goods and services like food, beverages, transportation, and equipment rentals. Average total spending rises significantly if they are an out-of-town visitor who needs accommodation.

For example: the Great Allegheny Passage Trail in Pennsylvania and Maryland had an average spend of $18 for day users and $125 for overnight users in 2014. Total spending was not calculated in 2014, but an earlier study from 2002 pegged the total at $7 million.

A study of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail in Pennsylvania found that trail users spent an average of $21 just on soft goods (like food and drink) in 2013. Overnight users stayed an average of 2.6 nights and typically spent $80 per night on accommodations. The total direct impact that year was $7.5 million.

The numbers are even higher for motorized trails. One report prepared for the Canadian All Terrain Vehicle Distributors Council estimates that in 2005, Canadians spent $3.3 billion directly on activities involving ATVs, with a quarter of that on purchases of new ATVs and another quarter on accommodations and meals outside the house. Another 12 per cent was spent just on fuel. The report even claims that the ATV industry has created 24,000 jobs in Canada.

To put this on a smaller scale, Haliburton County, Ontario did some research and found that ATV riders visiting the area spend over $36 million per year.

On Wisconsin’s Cheese County Trail, motorized vehicle users spent $15 million in 2011 and supported 190 local jobs.

In New Brunswick, ATV tourism spending was estimated at $7.2 million, sustaining an estimated 54 full-time equivalent jobs.

Other economic benefits

Other economic benefits are harder to measure but still important. Urban trails (which are mostly non-motorized) are amenities that can increase nearby property values. Commercial properties near trails also see benefits because employees can use the trails to reduce stress at lunchtime, and commute to work in a more active manner, both of which contribute to employee attraction and retention.

There is also the impact of spending on equipment, which is included in some of the numbers above but not all. In 2011, Canadian households spent an average of $46 on bicycles, parts and accessories and $55 on all-terrain vehicles. If we extrapolate this average over Canada’s 13,320,610 households, that’s $1.3 billion in national spending just on bikes and ATVs.  If communities have a good local trail system, or access to a wider trail network, then local businesses are in a better position to cater to this market.

Maximizing the economic benefits of trails

Knowing the economic benefits of trails is just the first step in harnessing them. Even existing trails may not be generating their full potential if they are not well-promoted or connected to adjacent neighborhoods and communities.

The Great Alleghany and Erie to Pittsburgh trails are part of an economic development and community revitalization initiative called the Trail Town Program, which aims to maximize the economic outputs of trails. Participating towns set up infrastructure to connect the town and trail, market the community to trail users (local and non-local), improve business mix to cater to trail users, and educate existing businesses on meeting trail users’ needs.

The results have been impressive. In the Great Alleghany Passage area in 2008 (only two years after the trail was finished), business owners reported that a quarter of their gross revenue came from trail users  and two-thirds of the owners said they experienced at least some increase in gross revenue due to the trail. By 2014, 40 per cent of the businesses planned to expand, and 67 per cent of them attributed the expansion to the impact from the trail. For obvious reasons, Jennifer sees great potential in bringing the model to Canada.

What are your local trails doing for your community and region? If you have a trail development success story, let us know in the comments below.

About the papers’ authors

Jennifer Lake, Ec.D (F) is a lifelong resident of Conception Bay South, Newfoundland and Labrador. Jennifer is the Director of the Town’s Economic Development and Tourism Department and has earned a Fellowship Designation in Economic Development from the University of Waterloo, and a Bachelor Degree in Physical Education with a Concentration in Teaching from Memorial University. She is the first economic development professional in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador to receive both the Ec.D. and Fellowship Designations from the Economic Developers Association of Canada. Jennifer’s paper, Socio-Economic Benefits of Trail Development in Conception Bay South, is available online via our journal, Papers in Canadian Economic Development.

Krista Perry is an Economic Development Coordinator with the Town of Conception Bay South, and is currently working towards a Certificate in Economic Development from the University of Waterloo. She has spent most of her professional career working with businesses, community groups and organizations, schools, and municipalities. She is constantly seeking new partnership opportunities and looking for innovative ways to engage current partners.

About the series

Higher ED: Insights for the Next Economy is a platform for students, guest speakers, staff and faculty of the University of Waterloo’s professional and graduate economic development programs to share knowledge with the field at large. The series takes works destined for an academic audience and reworks them into a fresh, easy-to-digest blog article.

Established in 1988, the Local Economic Development program is the only master’s program in Canada devoted solely to local economic development. It offers a balance between theory and practice by combining coursework, a major research paper, an internship, and weekly seminars featuring guest speakers. Students are prepared for careers in local, community, or regional economic development.

The Economic Development Program is a nationally-accredited provider of professional training. It delivers certification programs and seminars that offer a deep understanding of the Canadian context in a convenient block format. Peer learning is combined with informative lectures and practical case studies to provide dynamic instruction that is beneficial for junior and senior-level practitioners.

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